AUBURN, Ala. — When Auburn basketball stepped on the court in Auburn Arena on Tuesday night, it did so with a spot in the AP Top 25.
It was the first time since 2000 Auburn had a number in front of its name, and it was obvious when the game was underway. The Tigers were anxious to continue their win streak on The Plains.
Andy Kennedy’s visiting Ole Miss team, however, had little interest in letting that happen.
Bruce Pearl’s team got off to a shaky start against the Rebels, but the group didn’t let that get in the way of a win. Throughout the course of two halves, Auburn basketball battled its way back and secured a lead, ending the night on a high note.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from Auburn basketball’s 85-70 win over Ole Miss:
Getting used to being ranked
Auburn basketball didn’t have an ideal start on Tuesday night, but it wasn’t because the Tigers were playing all that poorly.
Make no mistake, Pearl’s team was ready to go — perhaps a little too eager.
It was the first time the Tigers had taken the floor as a ranked team in Auburn Arena in 18 years, and it looked like players were more than aware of that.
Fans were eager to get loud and Pearl’s team wanted to give the crowd something to cheer about. Unfortunately, as is often the case when teams are more amped up than need be, Auburn missed some easy shots and made some silly mistakes.
The effort was there. The plays were there. The execution, however, was not. Ole Miss, comparatively, came out ready to play (heck, Kennedy’s team was warming up in the dark during Auburn’s introduction video).
It took a few minutes, but when Auburn finally calmed down and let the game come, it started to play better. Still, Auburn finished the first half with 9 turnovers, which, in turn, gave Ole Miss points. That was really the difference in the first 20 minutes of play.
It’s the little things
Officials were extremely eager to blow their whistles in this mid-week matchup, and they did. Both teams finished the game with a combined 47 fouls.
Unlike last year, however, this didn’t hurt Auburn nearly as badly as it could have.
Remember last season when players would walk nervously to the free-throw line and everyone in the state could tell they didn’t want to shoot it? Those days are long gone.
One of the most important improvements Pearl’s team has made this season has been simple (and probably somewhat overlooked): free throws.
Auburn lost games in 2016-17 because of poor efforts from the charity stripe. This season, at least so far, it’s been an edge. The Tigers outshot Ole Miss from the line in a game where it mattered.
Watch out for, well, everybody
Auburn continued to prove it is a complete team against Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
It was visible at several points throughout the game, but especially in a 2-minute span about halfway through the second half when the Tigers went on a 6-0 run.
During that short time, Chuma Okeke, Anfernee McLemore and Mustapha Heron each scored. Though it was a small window in what was a significant second-half effort, it was the perfect illustration for this team: Everyone poses a threat at any given time.
Auburn basketball has showcased its balance in previous wins this season, but there was a difference against Ole Miss — everyone was ready to step forward and score when the opportunity presented itself.
During the last 10 minutes, Heron, Bryce Brown and Desean Murray largely led the way, but the trio was able to do so because other guys stepped up earlier in the evening and proved valuable. Heron’s aggressive drives opened things up for Brown on the outside, for example.
This is no longer a team that is looking for points from just one person or a couple of players (that’s so 2016). Pearl has numerous lineups he can turn to in conference play that pose different scoring threats and offer defensive grit, too.
At the end of 40 minutes, five players had reached double digits. That only makes the scouting report for SEC teams more difficult to master.